U.S. Exit From Afghanistan Holds Scary Prospects

th year, with practically no prospect of a decisive outcome. This narrative has to begin by viewing the ‘Game’ from the American prism because the US, its Monroe Doctrine in shreds in the mountains of Afghanistan, is emerging as the likely net loser. It survived Vietnam, but Afghanistan is already impacting its position as the world leader. Ironically, Trump, while working to withdraw, wants regional players to send troops that should replace his. Nobody, including India, is buying that. Each would want to protect own turf and if possible, gain geopolitical influence. This is the new “Great Game.” Trump administration is striving for a deal to extricate itself. Zalmay Khalilzad, Trump’s Afghan-American envoy, says he has made some headway with the Taliban. The US is seeking ‘verifiable’ assurances before quitting Afghanistan. The trillion dollar question (the US has spent that much in this conflict) is whether the US can enforce those terms once it quits. It did ‘degrade’ the Taliban over the years, but never enough to force them to negotiate. Principal reason for that was their Pakistan sanctuary. Three US Presidents took long to realize this. Their punishing it occasionally yielded no solution. Taliban know they cannot get control over Afghanistan until the Americans quit. But they rule on the ground. Hence, it is doubtful if they would be satisfied playing a minor role in a collective Afghan government. Their refusal to respect the current Afghan government could be a deal breaker. But they can, as they have done, sit out. Sensing success at some stage, Taliban seek to appear reasonable, under the Sharia law, on treatment to women and religious minorities. Spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid has said what they followed “early times” while in power could alter as the situation has ‘evolved’ and is ‘different.’ The Hindus, Sikhs and Christians who constitute microscopic minorities, would enjoy their religious freedom. For now, the US has virtually sidelined the Kabul regime it has propped for 17 years. Sensing the inevitable, President Ashraf Ghani is protesting and has the ears of those in the region who, while wanting the US to quit, don’t want to facilitate it. Nobody is expecting a smooth transition should a deal materialize. But Afghanistan, landlocked and abjectly dependent upon Pakistan, is seeking to break out. It has just begun exports to through a totally new route, from its Zaranj city to Iran’s India-built Chabahar port to Mumbai. India sent 1.1 million tonnes of wheat and 2,000 tonnes of lentils to Afghanistan through Chabahar. Both also established an air corridor in 2017 after which Afghan exports to India stood at $740 million in 2018, which is double of what Pakistan exports to India. This is but a sneeze for Pakistan that undoubtedly remains the key player, backed by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf nations and controlled by China that has set up the bigger Gwadar port in Balochistan. For every step–back Washington takes, Beijing advances that much and more. The Sino-Pak duo could emerge as the net gainer. But will they end Pakistan’s woes – refugees and drugs, principally – given their deep penetration in its society? The Durand Line dispute shall persist; even the Taliban when in power had not accepted it. Trump, like predecessor Obama, keeps lambasting Pakistan for failing America’s “war on terrorism” and being part of the problem instead of the solution. He has withheld funds, but has also ensured cooperation – at a price. It is an open secret that the bailout booty Pakistan has begun receiving from Saudi Arabia and the UAE is at America’s behest. It is also meant to restrict China. But the “iron brother” has already gotten big thanks to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). However, Trump holds the proverbial trump card – the International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout, till Pakistan delivers on allowing access to departing American troops and equipment. Like China, Russia and Iran would also want the US out of this Asian theatre. America under Trump seems their best bet as each hopes to extract its pound of the Afghan flesh in terms of geopolitical influence. They all agree that the Islamic State (IS), losing territorial battle in Syria but spreading its tentacles eastwards into Af-Pak region, is a bigger threat, not the Taliban whose worldview was and remains restricted to Afghanistan. Everyone realizes that what the US/NATO failed to achieve with 150,000 troops on the ground, cannot be done with 13,000 of which Trump wants to withdraw a half to begin with. Notably, opposition in the US to quitting Afghanistan is nowhere as fierce as what was evident when Trump decided to quit Syria. Another Afghan reality is that although the Taliban control more territory than they ever did, they cannot on their own overrun Kabul. A depleting and de-spirited National Army can still hold out. The Sino-Pak combine would not want this as that would make the Taliban too strong to tackle. Ditto Iran that must guard the interests of Shia population in a Sunni-Pashtun dominated set-up that would gain control of Kabul. Having long fed the conflict by providing the Taliban a safe haven, Pakistan, too, would fear the untrammeled emergence of a fragmented Afghanistan under a Taliban government. In sum, everyone wants a piece of the animal in this game of “Afghan Buzhkhashi.” Tackling Taliban first and improvise a solution from outside may not be easy. The complex Afghan polity includes many ethnicities that have often been at war. The conflict is actually of Pashtun versus Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks and numerous minor groups. Many have in the past changed sides. Since the Jirga culture of collective debate and decision has been destroyed, it is difficult to see them working together. Any foreign-imposed arrangement between a foreign power and one ethnic group reached in a Gulf capital is unlikely to work. What is there for India? It has gained and lost presence since the days of Maharajah Ranjit Singh, the British and the Soviets. The American exit could again render it ‘friendless’. This is a grim prospect in a more complex geopolitical environment, having spent a whopping three billion dollars and invested in goodwill among the Afghans since 2002. India needs to work carefully with old allies – Russia, Iran and the Central Asian Republics. And with China that last year agreed to launch a joint project in Afghanistan partnering India. India-Pakistan tensions rage over terror attacks in Pulwama followed by India’s retaliatory strikes, with more trouble in store. The Iran-Pakistan tensions also simmer after Iranian Revolutionary Guards were attacked a day before Pulwama. They only underscore the reality that what is being billed as the ‘endgame’ in Afghanistan is getting complicated by the day. Despite Trump’s resolve, it would naïve to think that the US would quit so easily a virgin land of copper and several yet-to-be-explored minerals. They are needed for the American industry, especially, the defence industry that must sell arms and keep, like trouble spots elsewhere, the Afghan pot boiling. There seems no ‘end’ to this ‘game’. Will history repeat itself? Will the international community again abandon a war-ravaged Afghanistan like it did three decades back after the Soviets withdrew, paving the way for the Taliban, then 9/11 and then the IS? Will Afghanistan then remain a citadel of transnational terrorism, a drugs haven and sanctuary for various Jihadi groups? The prospects are scary. The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com  ]]>

Time To Upgrade Quad Alliance To The Next Level

th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, which met in 2017, was a coming out party of President Xi Jinping. China was ready to abandon Deng Xiopeng’s advice to keep its head down and work at developing the nation into a moderately prosperous nation ready to take its rightful place in the world stage. The need to spread Socialism with Chinese characteristics for other countries to follow was a message which was echoed by Xi in the Congress. So if Shinzo Abe was concerned about China’s rise in 2007, it has intensified manifold now. So a fresh attempt is now being made to revive the quadrilateral now being referred simply as the quad.  Shinzo Abe is well entrenched as the PM. He has taken up the unfinished project. Despite thriving trade ties with China, the two countries have been traditional enemies. India, Japan and the US are keen. The Conservative Party in Australia is too, but a Labour government would not be as enthusiastic. A first meeting of the quad officials was held in Manila in 2017 ahead of the ASEAN summit in the Philippines. So far it is confined to the official level with no formal meeting of the political leaders. But much ground has been covered in Track 2, the informal process. The Sasakawa Peace Foundation, invited the Vivekananda Foundation of India (which works closely with the government), National Security College of Australia of Australian National University and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation US, for a conferences in February 2017 and 2018, {countries with stakes in the Indian Ocean Region, with shared democratic values} to put their heads together and put together a plan for a free and open security structure for in the Indo-Pacific and the Indian Ocean. Experts from four countries have brought out their recommendations which were released in Delhi last week. Has the time come for the quad to take off? Taking quad to the next level would be to upgrade it to the political sphere, where foreign ministers of the four countries and a Summit down the line. India will not be in a hurry to raise the level of representation just yet. This is especially so post Wuhan, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping tried to repair ties after the Doklam standoff. Delhi will wait and watch. India needs peace in the neighbourhood and focus on lifting millions out of poverty. So while supporting the quad, Delhi is likely to confine it to the official level so as not to spoil ties in China. Australian politics is in a flux. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has just been replaced by Scott Morisson. The ruling party has a majority of one in parliament. Australia’s trade with China is huge, and opinion is divided whether Australia can afford to be at logger heads with China. Much depends on which political party is in power. Japan is enthusiastic about the quad and would prefer it to raise it to the summit level. US President Donald Trump now engaged in a trade war with China and China bashing, will be in a mood to support upgrading the quad. The quad is certainly going to be an important player in future. The effort will however be to get more countries on boars for a loose alliance to protect the freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific and the Indian Ocean.]]>

Sikh 2020 Referendum, India Shares Responsibility

th August, to hold a rally in London and declare the referendum. The Government of India has been reacting to it and accusing Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI, to be behind the exercise. The campaign has been called a waste of time, a gimmick or opportunist by many Sikhs, since it has no authorisation from any State or UN or other legitimate authority. Ironically most serious Sikh Khalistani (Sikh State) groups have opposed it.  However their response has been muted because they don’t want to be seen to be on the same side as the more aggressive opposition by the Indian government to this referendum campaign. Nevertheless, the fact that it has reached such proportion of debate in Indian press and within Sikhs is a victory of sorts for SFJ, even if nothing else may be achieved. It is also symptomatic of the frustration and resentment that has continued to fester among worldwide Sikhs since 1984. The issues that have arisen recurrently between Sikhs and the Indian State are well known. The foremost is that the holiest place of the Sikhs, Sri Darbar Sahib was entrusted to Indian protection. But in 1984, the Indian Government, under Mrs Gandhi, sent in the Indian Army to invade the most powerful and influential seat of authority in the Sikh world, thus declaring a form of war without realising it.  The attack led to calls for a separate State so that the Akal Takhat Sahib and Sri Darbar Sahib can be protected by a State of the Sikhs instead. Closely following this and for many years were the unconstitutional methods adopted by the State in eliminating large number of Sikh youth to prevent a civil uprising. Over 60000 Sikhs have been executed extrajudicially and many tortured grotesquely. Some unique methods were developed by Punjab police, now copied by dictatorships around the world. The other major incident was the organised massacres of Sikhs by the Congress party that followed the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the Indian Prime Minister in November 1984. New Delhi’s contribution to world civilisation was the invention of burning alive of people with tyres around their necks.  Over 4000 Sikhs were massacred with iron bars, long knives, axes and burning alive in a free orgy of violence over four days. The police looked the other way and the Army, stationed only half an hour’s distance away, remained in its barracks. The Sikhs of Punjab responded to the attack on Darbar Sahib by executing Mrs Gandhi, the Chief of Army (Gen Vaidya) who ordered the attack and the Chief Minister (Beant Singh) who gave the police carte blanc unconstitutional powers to kill as many political activists as it could. The Sikhs of Delhi put their trust in the Indian judicial system. 34 years later they have been fed 11 Commissions of Enquiry but no incarceration of any senior Congress member. It should not surprise any analyst why 34 years after 1984, resentment and hurt festers below the surface among Sikhs, leaving the community susceptible to those who imagine themselves as wannabe messiahs on a mission to lead Sikhs to freedom from this pain or worse prey to political and economic opportunists. Even the Akali Dal regularly exploits Sikh issues when in opposition but goes quiet when in power. However it is simplistic for victimhood within Sikhs to see Hindu India as a hostile, cruel inhuman country and hope for justice and restoration of mutual respect. The Indians themselves are imprisoned in a Kafkesque nightmare from which they don’t know how to step out.  Physical colonialism came to an end in 1947 in India but the institutions and political concepts of colonialism remain intact even 70 years after the British transferred power. [caption id="attachment_29480" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Presidents of India have been trapped in ceremonies left by the British.[/caption] India is a colonial edifice, to the last brick of its foundation. All modern Indian institutions were established by the British to govern ‘over Indians’ and protect themselves from the natives or promote interests of the occupying colonialists. Whether it is the constitution founded on the 1935 Act which the British enacted to rule ‘over’ Indians with some punitive accountability to ‘natives’, or the police which was to keep the natives in check while applying different rules for the Sahibs, or the Army which was orientated to protect the British from Indian mutinees and rebellions, to the legal system which was meant to usurp indigenous value systems and implant British Victorian values and system of rule or whether it is the civil service which was established to administrate Indians on behalf of the British. Nothing has changed in the founding frameworks of these institutions. The Indian State follows the blue print left by the British colonialists to rule India as conquerors. The British didn’t leave behind a repair manual nor sent revision sheets or updates, and so to date Indians haven’t found a way to solve any of the regional or cultural conflicts. Strengthening colonial era laws on detention, making colonial era torture methods even more painful and sending in the Army to protect the ‘rulers’ against the ‘natives’ is a recurring pattern of response to challenges, where politics should seek solutions instead. The political class behaves like managers. The institutional framework of British India was enacted for the British in India to act as managers on behalf of the Crown or rather British Parliament. They were not meant to govern. Government was in UK. [caption id="attachment_29482" align="aligncenter" width="300"] The Viceroy’s Carriage pre-1947. Little has changed except the logos.[/caption] Unfortunately the Indian political class acts as managers and has been managing the edifice since 1947 waiting for guidance from some mythical power above it.  India has been in management mode since 1947. 70 years later it has yet to start governing and take bold decisions, such as a new contract with the people, change of colonial era laws, overhaul of an imperialist constitution, and instil in the army that it is there to protect the borders, not kill Indian citizens etc. This is the intractable dynamics in which Sikhs and the Indians are locked in. The Sikhs are hoping India will give justice. Individually Indians weep when told about stories, the massacres, the tortures etc, but Indians as the State simply don’t know how to untangle the shackles of colonialism and transfer that empathy with minorities into solutions. Like all such scenarios, in which those in power are powerless, there is recourse to diversion such as calling secessionists as ‘dreaded terrorists’ and blaming others, such as ISI for troubles of India’s own inadequacies. The Sikhs like some other regional minorities do not expect Congress to address the issues that divide them from the State. Congress after all was the Government that attacked Sri Darbar Sahib. Congress is in fact the penultimate party of WOGS if there is such a creature. Since 1947 it has been managing a failed colonial mission, to change Indians into a poor image of European society.

RSS vision is to make India a Hindu Rahstra.

  There was hope when Modi came to power that he will bring in a fresh and bold approach to solving issues such as those of the Sikhs. But his own party has been riddled with conceptual ideologies which have little to do with Indian civilisation. The identity Hindu and the name of the country, Hindustan, was given by Muslim invaders. Both RSS and the BJP have internalised these as missions, to make India a Hindu State and take pride in calling it Hindustan. Pakistani Muslims must be smug that their forefathers gave identity both to the people and the country. If the Congress is peddling a bastardised ideology developed from nineteenth century European political theories calling it Indian secularism (if ever there was a word more nonsense), the BJP and RSS are hell bent on promoting concepts inherited from radical Islam strongly similar to Hassan al-Banna’s ideas of Muslim Brotherhood packaged in the nomenclature given by Muslim invaders, Hindu and Hindustan. The trouble is that neither the Sikhs nor the Indians have introspection of their situation. Neither seems to be aware of the time warp they remain in, frozen in 1947. The Indians are caught in a Goldfish bowl, unable to break through it. The Sikhs expect empathy and solutions that the colonial  institutional framework of post colonial India is not constructed for, hence unable to deliver. This is why 34 years after 1984, Sikhs cannot make sense of the attack on Sri Darbar Sahib, the extra-judicial executions, the massacres of Sikhs in Delhi and this is also why India has not been able to move an inch forward towards addressing the resentment festering within Sikhs. Until one or the other side understands the dilemma and weakness of the other and starts to help the other come out if its crises, the Sikhs will continue to be victims of excitable gimmick like rallying calls such as Referendum 2020 and India will continue to make enemies of its own people with the political class acting as managers of an edifice and the Army gingerly killing the very people it is meant to protect. Neither side knows how to move forward.]]>

What Pakistan Poll Outcome Holds For South Asia

th prime minister in seven decades, besides the military strongmen who have ruled for long years, reinforces this. It is tad unfair to single out Pakistan. Many more nations practising varying forms of democracy, while adhering to democratic processes, have elected right-wing demagogues with dictatorial instincts. Pakistan’s 11th general election has pushed the nation further to the right, with little hope of any far-reaching changes in the lives of the people. Mercifully, the parties and their candidates who represent the forces of pseudo-religious extremism who had muscled into the country’s electoral system have been rejected by the people. Knowingly, but unwisely fostered by the establishment they are, however, unlikely to slow down their campaign for curtailing whatever little freedom is allowed to women and the media. The persecution of minorities could increase. There is no indication that civil society will be allowed to work in peace. Apprehensions arise as Imran Khan for long empathized with these forces to an extent the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) once nominated him to represent them to talk to the government. He supported former military ruler Pervez Musharraf after the latter’s 1999 coup, but fell out later. Musharraf famously called him “Taleban Khan”. And now, exiled Musharraf supports Imran. It was quite open. Fazlur Rehman Khalil, founder of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) and a US-designated global terrorist with links to al-Qaeda, formally joined Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI). With poll-day violence, not just the moderates, the mainstream Islamist parties also suffered electorally. Undoubtedly the world’s first cricketing hero-turned-politician to become the prime minister, the Oxford-educated, urbane Imran Khan represents all the contradictions of many foreign-educated third world leaders who must practice conservative politics. They abound in South Asia. But this has been Imran’s USP with Pakistan’s young, the middle classes and the rich, nurtured on a conservative ethos for over four decades that saw two long phases of military rule. He was ideal for the military establishment that co-opted him to oust the three time-premier Nawaz Sharif, its increasingly less pliable one-time protégé. Sharif’s ouster through months of political engineering for which the military establishment also co-opted the judiciary, yet again, and what domestic and international observers have called ‘micro-management’ of the elections helped catapult Khan to the top. This underscores the role the army has come to play of wielding power without grabbing it, through remote control. This is the unanimous verdict of whosoever has watched Pakistan. The establishment has got its man in, but limitations of this management of democratic processes are evident in the fractured popular mandate. Short of majority in the National Assembly, Imran must find allies. Smaller parties may join a coalition but managing it may turn out to be difficult for Imran, the one-man show used to dictating and being idolized. Next, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) that the establishment black-listed and engineered an exodus from has managed three-scores of seats, albeit a half of Imran’s score. It has emerged at the top in the all-too-critical Punjab province. Whoever forms the Punjab Government, it is not going to be easygoing. The once-powerful and popular Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP), manipulated to keep away from joining forces with Nawaz, has retained its support base in Sindh. The loser in Sindh is the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), the party of ‘mohajirs’ or migrants from British India. It controlled and even terrorized Karachi, the commercial capital. Split into three and defanged with the ouster of its exiled founder Altaf Hussain, one of its factions may join Imran. MQM’s loss marks the decline of the mohajirs in Pakistan’s life, in political terms if not economic. The entire phalanx of losing parties, alleging large-scale rigging and irregularities, has demanded a re-election. This is a near-impossibility. There were two ‘spoilers’. One was Khan’s ex-wife Reham’s tell-all book leveling serious charges that seemed the work of a journalist and not a gossipy society lady. It was timed for the elections. Khan, well advised by his promoters, decided not to react at all and give currency to the book’s content. The book was ostensibly digested by Pakistan’s netizen that, however, do not go to the polling station. Beyond mud-slinging with the hope that some would stick, the book’s impact is doubtful. A deeply patriarchal society, Pakistan is not Europe or America. The other was a speech by Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the Islamabad High Court who created a stir by accusing intelligence agencies, specifically the arm’s ISI, of interfering in affairs of the judiciary. A maverick, he has earned the ire of the establishment. Forget the polite language of the Twitter posting by the Army’s PR chief Asif Ghafoor, it was nothing short of a publicly expressed demand to sack the offending judge. An enraged Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar denounced attempts being made “to defame the judiciary” and vowed that ‘justice’ would be dispensed to the rebellious judge. Post-elections, he is heading the bench that is hearing petitions against the rebellious judge. Neither the foreign media, nor the Observers, were amused at the way the polls were conducted. The US State Department concurred with the European Union and the Commonwealth Observers and with the fears expressed by the Human Rights Commissions of Pakistan. As a nation that loves cricket, India would have wanted to welcome Imran. To be fair, he was not anti-India like, say, Javed Miandad. Hence, the only people excited are Imran’s starry-eyed cricket lovers innocent of or unmindful of how his political career has shaped or that the forces that have brought him to power live and thrive on being anti-India. Officially, the reaction was cautious as India does not see prospects of ground reality changing. With Imran expectedly making Kashmir the ‘core’ issue and harping on the UN resolutions, his so called olive branch means little. Only Track-II dialogue may resume at some stage. Any understanding of global affairs says that not talking cannot be a permanent posture in diplomacy. Also, since both countries are nuclear-armed which is a cause for concern to everyone far and near. It is a fact that both the USA that has India as its security ally, and China that is backing Pakistan on just about every issue, are pressing both to talk and let peace have a chance. Regionally, although Pakistan’s ultra-right lost electorally, the genie has been out the bottle for too long. Its growing presence poses a threat to not just Pakistan, but the whole region, especially India with which it has permanently hostile relations and with Afghanistan where its intentions are predatory. As most of these groups are hardcore Sunnis and are avowedly anti-Shia, Iran would have cause to worry. How China that has invested millions with millions more in the pipeline in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) views the new political reality and tackles it would be worth watching. The CPEC is the flagship of its global BRI. Its Pakistan investments can bear fruit only amidst relative peace and stability. Gwadar, the port China has invested heavily in to gain access to the Indian Ocean, cannot function to its optimum capacity as long as Balochistan’s militant groups defying the army. Imran has arrived when geopolitical war has intensified in Asia. India is seen with the US while Pakistan and China are the other group with tacit support of Russia that has moved close to China to prevent the American advances.  After all, America needs Pakistan to let it withdraw honourably from Afghanistan where it is stuck for 17 years with no sign of winning. So, much as Indians may feel important and strong, Pakistan, too, has its uses. There is speculation that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had invited leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to his swearing-in 2014, could bless the new government in Islamabad along with other Saarc players, should such an invite go out from Imran. As both neighbours enter next month the 71st year of their respective independence and the Partition that came with it, will there be a “South Asia Moment”? The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmal.com]]>